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Explore the reality of software testing—are there any truly significant differences between Agile and traditional testing? Beyond scheduling, is the actual testing task any different for QA testers? Explore how little the methodology used really matters for software testing professionals.

Software testing evolves in a continuous circular pattern, or at least it appears that way. There are definite distinctions between software testing in an Agile development team and a quality assurance (QA) testing team that tests in a traditional manner. Traditional testing is defined as any method other than Agile testing. Traditional testing includes development teams using waterfall or other formal or highly regulated forms of testing.

When planning and executing tests, is there truly any difference between Agile and traditional testing? Aside from length of execution time and how the testing is planned? My experience is it’s literally the same, only in Agile testing it’s spread out over sprints and then repeated prior to a release or repeated as continuous regression testing. Is there any real difference for testing professionals?

This guide discusses the differences and similarities between testing in an Agile or traditional software development methodology. Explore the reality of software testing—are there any truly significant differences between Agile and traditional testing?

Key Takeaways

  • What is the Agile methodology?
  • What is Agile methodology in testing?
  • What is Agile testing officially?
  • What is Agile testing in reality?
  • Learn what traditional testing means officially and how it works.
  • Discover the similarities between traditional and Agile testing techniques.
  • Find out how frequently testing techniques cross over, leaving little distinction in actual testing tasks.

What Is the Agile Methodology?

Agile methodology is a process that intends to value individuals and interactions over documentation, formal processes and tools. Agile admits that change happens constantly in software development and the best way to manage change is to accept and manage it.

Originally developed by the Agile Alliance in 2001, the Agile methodology is popular for software organizations developing applications that must be delivered quickly and with high quality. The Agile methodology takes the focus off following processes and creating documentation and puts the customer first. The software must meet customer expectations and provide a positive user experience.

What Is the Agile Methodology in Testing?

The Agile testing process falls in line with development in that testing is performed during coding. QA testing begins in the beginning of the project from design to coding and through release. Testing is continuous across the development process rather than being sequential or occurring after coding is completed.

Agile testing removes the time barriers between functions by aligning on a development team. The team designs, codes and tests the software as part of the development process. Agile testing delivers working, quality release code more frequently. By releasing frequently, the team can respond to user feedback in the next sprint or iteration. Keeping the customer at the center ensures the product meets expectations.

What Is the Official Definition of Agile Testing?

The official definition of Agile testing is testing practices that follow the rules and principles of Agile software development. Officially, that’s a vague definition subject to multiple interpretations of Agile and the principles a software development organization uses in practice.

Agile development typically includes a planning stage where user stories are created, scoped, reviewed and placed in a series of iterations from one to many. During the iterations, testing occurs on each user story, while regression tests are developed across iterations for execution either continuously or prior to a feature functional release.

Depending on the development team, software testers may be provided specification and design documents to use, albeit with the caveat that requirements may change as needed. Another option is all the documentation of design and coding decisions are housed in an array of user stories stored by project.

The actual practice of test development, planning and execution depends on the style of testing used. For example, organizations may adapt Agile for development and return to traditional methods of testing once the feature iterations are completed. Agile testing practices may involve TDD or BDD (test-driven development or behavior-driven development), user story or feature story testing only with no regression testing, or a random sampling of several techniques based on the time available for testing. For some Agile organizations, testing doesn’t exist as a separate work effort but is paired with or occurs as a task handled by development.

What Is Agile Testing in Reality?

In reality, Agile testing has a customizable definition based on the principles adopted by the software development business and how literally they are followed. Based on experience, what typically happens is the Agile methodology gets adopted by the business, followed by training in iterations, scrum master duties and team tasks defined.

Most often work tasks remain in a traditional style where product management provides user stories with a variable level of descriptive or requirement details. Product managers lead the team in user story planning and assignment into iterations for coding and testing. Testing follows the completion of each story that’s coded—assuming the functionality works enough to be testable.

Now, there are likely many organizations that follow TDD, where automated or unit type tests are created based on the developed code. However, for the most part at the point of testing, Agile testing becomes traditional testing but at an Agile speed. In other words, traditional testing techniques continue but at a more rapid pace and generally with less detailed information, such as design specifications or complete functional use cases. Essentially, Agile testing often equates to executing testing repeatedly in a shortened timeline.

What’s the Official Definition of Traditional Testing Techniques?

The official definition of traditional testing is testing within a software development methodology where each organized phase must complete before the next one starts. In other words, the software development process flows in a unidirectional path from design, requirements, coding, testing and release.

The product management team, like Agile, plans and documents the requirements based on customer needs. The plan and requirements documentation moves into the coding phase. Once the features are coded, then the software testers receive a code build to begin testing. Software testers use the requirements and design documentation when they exist to develop test cases for all the planned features.

Testing continues until all the requirements are verified. Defects are entered, and then the software development team or a committee determines which defects are fixed and which remain in a defect backlog for a future release. If defect fixes are coded, then all affected tests cases are updated and a regression test execution phase retests to ensure the release quality.

Once the testing phase completes, then the code is packaged and released for customer use. One can think of it as a step-by-step process from design, requirements, coding, testing and then release. The only overlap is work that begins and ends by different teams within the software development group. For example, test case development begins after the design and requirements are completed and during coding. When testing is active, then design and product teams are at work designing the next release feature set.

How Agile and Traditional Testing Cross Over in Reality

Agile and traditional testing cross over, beginning with the testing techniques used. For example, test automation, unit, smoke, regression, integration, and functional or feature testing are relevant test types used during testing cycles. Additionally, both Agile and traditional testing make use of the same techniques including automating smoke, regression and functional tests. Using exploratory testing or boundary value and phase transition testing to find defects.

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Both use essentially the same testing techniques and types of testing. Agile testing in reality frequently involves testing beyond the TDD, BDD or user story testing. Test executions occur after defect fixes and multiple iterations are completed. Why? Although technically not Agile, regression testing at the end of a series of iterations keeps the number of defects lower for the release. Bugs and defects are easy to code in when requirements and features change during iterations of software development. However, releasing defects to customers frequently does not serve to establish trust or improve customer experience.

Similarly, traditional testing tends to involve consistent rework, or recoding. When design and coding decisions are made once and then coded, tested and released, there’s a great deal of time for a change of heart to occur. Perhaps the customer decides the feature doesn’t work as they intended, or they’ve seen something better and want new features added to the original feature. For traditional development, that triggers another full release design, coding and testing cycle much like an Agile iteration only longer.

Testing is similar for both Agile and traditional software development. The one significant difference is time. Time allotted for testing in Agile is shorter because, in theory, testing is everyone’s responsibility and all features should be tested in design, coding and from product management. Do other team members really test? If so, is testing done effectively? The answer depends on the software development team and how they use Agile or traditional testing.

Testing is testing, and effective testing reduces defects in releases to customers. One can call it Agile or traditional testing, the difference comes down to timing. The timing and frequency of test execution are the only differences between Agile and traditional testing for software testers.

Are your testers already maxed out with test executions? Consider tools to make managing testing both efficient and effective. Testing tools like Test Studio leverage the latest in testing technology for creating, managing and executing effective and efficient test execution be it Agile or traditional.

About the Author

Amy Reichert

A QA test professional with 23+ years of QA testing experience within a variety of software development teams, Amy Reichert has extensive experience in QA process development & planning, team leadership/management, and QA project management.  She has worked on multiple types of software development methodologies including waterfall, agile, scrum, kanban and customized combinations. Amy enjoys continuing to improve her software testing craft by researching and writing on a variety of related topics. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cat management and the outdoors.


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